About an hour north of London, Ontario is the beautiful shore of Lake Huron, bedecked with beaches, resort towns and Pinery Provincial Park. This is where we are fortunate to have found a wonderful cottage along a quiet stretch of beach that we rent for four weeks each summer, two at the beginning of the season and two at the end. While here, I buy as much of my produce as I can at the Juicy-Fruit Market at Ravenswood. Most of what they sell there is grown at their nearby farm, but some items come from elsewhere in Ontario. Relying on the local fruit stand for produce is a real lesson in what buying local means. When we first came up at the end of June, I was so looking forward to locally grown strawberries, but as it turns out, I missed the last of them by a mere day or two. Timing is everything when buying local!
We arrived at the cottage Saturday night and went to the market on Sunday. Immediately I was struck by how much more produce was available than earlier in the summer, which is, after all, in keeping with the rhythms of the growing season. The display stands are crammed with a riot of colours in all shapes and sizes: slender bright green and yellow beans, dirigible-shaped dark green zucchini, red orbs of tomatoes, the golden skins of onions, tiny orange cherry tomatoes, white garlic and a whole palette of both round and elongated peppers. There were massive watermelons of at least two varieties and bins of three different kinds of sweet corn. And early season Paula Red apples; oh, I just can’t say enough about how much I love that first bite of a new apple, crisp and tart and juicy. Peaches! Did I mention the peaches? And blueberries, round and dark blue and sweet. You can see why a trip to the fruit market is my idea of heaven. So much to see, and the fresh smell of just-picked produce. The only challenge is making sure I don’t buy more than we can eat in a few days.
I came to the cottage with some ideas and supplies for a few specific dishes, but mostly our meals are guided by what I find at the market. Such an organic and adventurous way to cook. I wanted to start this trip with a recipe that I found on one of my favourite blogs, emmycooks, where I get great ideas for vegetarian and other cooking. Just recently Emmy wrote about a chilled watermelon soup with Thai flavours, and I was immediately intrigued. Watermelon soup? Well, I like watermelon although I’ve never been the biggest fan of fruit-based soups. Thai flavours? I like those, too. Emmy said that ‘the complex, intense flavours here will make this soup the star of the meal.” Clearly, there was something to be said for combining watermelon with Thai aromatics, and I was sold. Before we left for the cottage I bought lemongrass, ginger, red chile peppers and cilantro, since I knew I might not be able to find everything I needed here.
What I did find at the market was a beautiful, round Sugar Baby watermelon. This is the first time I tried one, and it was intensely sweet with a dense texture. The Sugar Baby has a very dark green skin and is about half the size of the ‘standard’ oval green and yellow-skinned watermelons that are more common around here. I used about a third of the watermelon for this recipe. The soup lived up to my expectations and more. The aromatics transformed the taste of the watermelon from something sweet and fruity to a complex spiciness with a mysterious sweet undertone. The colour morphed from watermelon pink to more of an orange, which adds to the challenge of identifying the base of the soup. The Culinary Enthusiast first guessed tomato, and Emmy said some of her guests thought it might also be carrot. Surprise, it’s watermelon! Chunks of avocado added richness and a sprinkling of cilantro added herby pungency. The CE loved the intensity of flavours in this soup. Served chilled, it manages to be fresh but with a depth of heat at the same time. (You can control the level of heat by how much chile pepper you use.) The recipe made enough for the two of us, served alongside three cobs of grilled corn each. It would easily serve four as a starter course at a dinner party. I can pretty much guarantee you that your guests will be enchanted by this soup, and finish every drop!
Thai-Inspired Chilled Watermelon Soup I found this recipe at emmycooks, here, as she adapted it from Gourmet. This is my adaptation of Emmy’s version. Note, the recipe called for a shallot but I didn’t have one so left it out. If you’d like to add one, treat it the same as the garlic, etc.
Puree 6 cups watermelon chunks in a blender, first having removed any black seeds (white ones will be strained out later). Transfer the puree to a bowl. Finely chop the bottom 6 inches of a stalk of lemongrass with the tough outer leaves removed, a garlic clove and a thumb-sized piece of peeled ginger. Saute the chopped aromatics in about 1 tbsp of olive oil until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add about 1/3 of the pureed watermelon to the pan and cook, stirring often, for about 5 more minutes. Scrape into the blender and add a minced red chile pepper (including seeds), 3/4 tsp salt and the juice of one lime (about 2 tbsp). Blend until smooth, then add the rest of the watermelon puree and pulse a few times to combine. Taste and adjust flavours as desired. Strain the soup through a fine-meshed strainer, stirring and pressing to extract as much juice as possible from the solids. Refrigerate for at least two hours, until thoroughly chilled. Before serving, chop an avocado and sprinkle with lime juice and salt. Chop a handful of cilantro. Add the avocado and cilantro to the soup before serving, and lime wedges on the side if you like.